Male gaze

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The male gaze refers to the way visual arts are structured around a masculine viewer. It describes the tendency in visual culture to depict the world and women from a masculine point of view and in terms of men's attitudes.[1][2] The male gaze consists of three different gazes, that of the person behind the camera, that of the characters within the representation or film itself, and the gaze of the spectator.[3][4]

The concept was first developed by feminist film critique Laura Mulvey in her 1975 essay entitled "Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema".[5] Mulvey posits that the gender power asymmetry is a controlling force in cinema and constructed for the pleasure of the male viewer, which is deeply rooted in patriarchal ideologies and discourses.[6] The concept has subsequently been prominent in feminist film theory, media studies, as well as communications and cultural studies. This term can also be linked to models of voyeurism, scopophilia, and narcissism.

Mulvey describes its two central forms, which are based in Freud’s concept of scopophilia, as: “pleasure that is linked to sexual attraction (voyeurism in extremis) and scopophilic pleasure that is linked to narcissistic identification (the introjection of ideal egos)”,[6] in order to demonstrate how women have historically been forced to view film through the “male gaze.” This theory inevitably reinforces the presence of hegemonic ideologies that dominate our political and social contexts; it also suggests that the male gaze denies women their human identity; relegating them to the status of objects to be admired for physical appearance and male sexual desires and fantasies.

In “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema”, Mulvey discusses several different types of spectatorship that may occur while viewing a film; it can involve unconsciously and/or in some cases consciously engaging in the typical, ascribed societal roles of men and women.

In relation to phallocentrism, films may be viewed in “three different looks”; the first refers to the camera as it records the actual events of the film, the second describes the nearly voyeuristic act of the audience as one engages in watching the film itself, and finally the third refers to the characters that interact with one another throughout the film.[6] The main idea that seems to bring these actions together is that “looking” is generally seen as an active male role, while the passive role of being looked at is immediately adopted as a female characteristic. It is under the construction of patriarchy that Mulvey argues that women in film are tied to desire and that female characters hold an “appearance coded for strong visual and erotic impact”.[6] The female actor is never meant to represent a character that directly affects the outcome of a plot or keep the story line going, but is inserted into the film as a way of supporting the male role and “bearing the burden of sexual objectification” that he cannot.[6]

In other words, the woman is passive to the active gaze from the man and can be linked to scopophilia (or scoptophilia), which can be described as pleasure derived from looking. As an expression of sexuality, scopophilia refers to sexual pleasure derived from looking at erotic objects: erotic photographs, pornography, naked bodies, etc. In sum, according to Mulvey, the categories of pleasurable viewing are twofold: voyeurism, which derives pleasure from viewing a distant other, and projecting one’s fantasies, usually sexual, onto that person, as well as narcissism, a form of recognition of one’s self in the image of another we are viewing. Mulvey also believes that in order to enjoy a film as a woman, or any gender identity other than male, we must learn to identify with the male protagonist.[6]


  1. ^ Eaton, E.W. (September 2008). "Feminist Philosophy of Art". Philosophy Compass 3 (5): 873–893. doi:10.1111/j.1747-9991.2008.00154.x. 
  2. ^ "Feminist Aesthetics". Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Winter 2012. Retrieved May 13, 2015. 
  3. ^ Devereaux, M. (1995). "Oppressive Texts, Resisting Readers, and the Gendered Spectator: The 'New' Aethetics". In Brand, P.Z.; Korsmeyer, C. Feminism and Tradition in Aesthetics. University Park, PA: Penn State University Press. p. 126. 
  4. ^ Walters, S.D. (1995). Material Girls: Making Sense of Feminist Cultural Theory. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press. p. 57. ISBN 978-0-520-08977-8. 
  5. ^ Weeks, L.P. (2005). "Male Gaze". In Ritzer, G. Encyclopedia of Social Theory. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications. p. 467. ISBN 978-0-7619-2611-5. 
  6. ^ a b c d e f Mulvey, Laura (1985). Nichols, Bill, ed. Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema. University of California Press. pp. 303–315.